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The Tolpuddle Martyrs Tree

One of the most famous trees in the country - iconic with trade union struggles and the Martyrs' meeting in the 1830s..

9 December 2009

Under this tree in 1834, six agricultural labourers, exploited by their employers – paid just 9 shillings a week and living in dreadful poverty – formed the first trades union in Britain to bargain for better pay and working conditions under the leadership of George Loveless.

The landowners, led by James Frampton and supported by the government, were desperate to put a stop to the union and to control increasing outbreaks of dissent. The Tolpuddle Six were arrested, sent to Dorchester for Trial, charged under the 1797 Mutiny Act. They were convicted of swearing a secret oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, sentenced to seven years and transported to Botany Bay.

There were many petitions and protest meetings and the newspapers published pictures showing the six men sitting under the tree. The matter was taken up by the Opposition with a rather embarrassed government. The sentence was deemed to be unequal to the crime and the Tolpuddle Martrys returned after three years as sheep farmers in Australia to live out their days in the village where the sycamore still stands proud on the green.

Take a look at this landmark in history.

Tolpuddle Martyrs' Tree Photo: Edward Parker